Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Bear Hunters and Future Whores
The bar for overzealous geekery has been raised.
While watching an episode of “Cosmos” (which, by the way is A-freaking-mazing) I became giddy with nerdtastic delight when I heard Neil DeGrasse Tyson refer to an Event Horizon as a place “from which no traveler returns.”
For my fellow book-snobs, you, too, may recognize that as a quote from Hamlet.
My nerd cup runneth over.
And, my brain hurts as I sit and ponder whether our Earth could really just be contained inside of a universe that was pulled into a black hole and only exists because the properties of physics in the external universe changed in such a way as to construct our existence. And, I think about Kurt Vonnegut’s message in Slaughter-House Five when he wrote about the possibility of human understanding of time to be insufficient to the reality of it.
You see, geek though I may be, I do seek to increase my understanding of that which is around me.
Books (though much more so as an adult than they were when I was younger) open my mind to understanding reality in new ways. It’s so empowering and exciting.
It would be important to note, however, that not all books have this impact. In fact, some, I might assert, actually make humankind stoopider. God (or Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster) help our children. Literature for little ones is a minefield of suck.
1. The Rainbow Fish – My kid loves this book. He has little cut-outs of fish all over his room now and he loves to look at and play with them. But, this highly-regarded book really burns my ass. Lemme lay it out for ya: The story revolves around a pompous rainbow fish who has sparkly scales. Personally, I believe that the sparkle is really what attracts kids (and some parents) to the book. Nobody likes this fish because he (or she — I don’t care enough to remember) has such beautiful scales. Many other fishes ask him if they can have just one scale and he says “no.” Fast-forward to the end of the book when he gives away each of his sparkly scales one-by-one and then people like him.
So, let me get this right: I am teaching my kid to give up parts of himself to others so he can buy friends? Thank God I don’t have a little girl. I would have a serious problem with the idea of selling your body for popularity. I venture to say that this is a slightly less terrifying message for the moms of boys, but perhaps not.
2. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt — A family inexplicably goes, you know, on a bear hunt. Pardon me for taking this to mean that they intend to catch, see, kill or meet a bear. They even take their toddler to go visit one of Earth’s greatest killing machines. They are subsequently shocked and terrified once they actually find a bear. No one thought to bring any sort of protective gear. They were gone all damn day and trekked through all kinds of treacherous bullshit and didn’t even pack a granola bar or a bottle of Dasani.
The final page, though, is what really pisses me off. You see, the family runs away from the bear once they find it. The bear, by the way, apparently lives at the beach, so I do question the authors’ understanding of environmental science, but whatever. But, on the very last page, the bear looks completely melancholy with shoulders slumped as he skulks back to his cave not having been able to chase the ridiculously unprepared family into their home. My nerdessness reminds me of Frankenstein’s monster and I wonder if the illustrator might have been trying to make some sort of philosophical statement about seeking someone/thing out just to reject it. The pop-culture weirdo in me thinks of that scene from “Never Been Kissed” when Drew Barrymore is hit with raw eggs while she awaits her nonexistent prom date. People are assholes. That’s what I learn from this book.
3. Harry by the Sea — A family of dickheads takes their dog on vacation with them. Harry, the dog, is the only one of them cloaked in a permanent fur coat, but that does not seem to matter to them. They banish him from the shade of the umbrella they brought with them. Even the kids give Harry shit for wanting to play with them. Excuuuuuuse Harry for wanting to be, oh — I don’t know — A DOG. Harry wanders from his family, is mistaken for a sea monster, gets yelled at by a fat lady, is nearly trapped by two Keystone Cop-esque beach patrol numbnuts and suffers temporary deafness. Only once a food vendor feeds him (perhaps because his asshole family wasn’t going to bother to) do the kids come and find him (where the fuck are the parents?), claiming that they miss him and want him to come back.
Keep in mind, folks, that the family nooooooow decides to get a new umbrella so Harry doesn’t have to die of heatstroke while on the beach in the motherfucking middle of the summer. So, the lesson we are teaching kids is: When irresponsibly taking your family pet to a place that is inherently unhealthy for him, don’t wait until some stranger feeds him processed meat products before you start giving a shit about him.
Maybe that actually isn’t the worst one, then.
Have a children’s book you’ve read (hell — ANY book, really) that doesn’t seem to resonate with you the same way it did with critics or others who read it? I’d love it if you shared.